Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities (13:1a).
The words every person apply to every human being from the beginning to the end of time. It is a universal command to all people– Christian, Jew, and Gentile alike. Government was created by God and instituted by Him for the welfare of all.
But, as MacArthur notes, Paul is writing to and thus speaking directly to Christians here. Following the Christian faith and civil obedience go together; they are inseparable. And subjection to the governing authorities includes more than simply obeying the laws and staying out of trouble. Mac says, “…it also includes genuine honor and respect for government officials as God’s agents for maintaining order and justice in human society,” (Mac commentary on Romans II, p. 212).
William Barclay comments: “…in point of fact, this is a commandment which runs through the whole New Testament. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we read: I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and for all who are in high positions; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” (William Barclay commentary on Romans)
Some think that since Paul was writing to Christians at Rome these were special instructions to them because of their tenuous standing among people who served multiple gods, a way to stay out of trouble. But Paul’s arguments here, as well as similar passages throughout the New Testament, make clear that subjection to human authority is the norm for the whole church.
Peter wrote to believers who were scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, (1 Peter 1:1). Peter said further, Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king, (1 Peter 2:13-17).
As always, the Apostle Paul followed his own admonition. When he and Silas were brutally beaten, thrown into prison, and the stocks at Philippi, instead of complaining or threatening their captors, the two believers spent the night in jail (until their miraculous delivery) singing songs and hymns to their God, knowing that He could and would deliver them from every enemy (Acts 16:25).
Mac tells of Giorgi Vins, a Russian pastor, who, during Soviet communism, suffered with his Christian brothers and pastors, every sort of evil and mistreatment. They were determined to obey every law, just or unjust, as long as it did not force them to turn against their God. They wanted to suffer for doing what was right but not for doing what is wrong, (1 Peter 3:17).
“Believers are to be model citizens,” Mac observes, “known as law-abiding not rabble-rousing, obedient rather than rebellious, respectful of government rather than demeaning of it. We must speak against sin, against injustice, against immorality and ungodliness with fearless dedication, but we must do it within the framework of civil law and with respect for civil authorities. We are to be a godly society, doing good and living peaceably within an ungodly society, manifesting our transformed lives so that the saving power of God is seen clearly,” (Mac p. 213).
Be in subjection, huppotaso, is a military term often used to describe soldiers who are under the absolute authority of a commanding officer. Since the verb is a passive imperative, it shows that the phrase is a command, not an option. Second, the believer is to willingly place himself under all governing authorities, whoever they may be and wherever he may find them.
There are no qualifications or conditions given. It is human nature to look for the escape clause, but there are none. “Every human authority is to be submitted to willingly…” (Mac).
In the biographical book, “Unbroken,” the main character, Louis Zamperini, is a World War II Navy bomber crewman whose plane is downed in the Pacific. He is also a Christian. The true story follows his incredible path of survival, first at sea and then as a prisoner of war under the brutal hands of his Japanese captors. Louis endured horrifying torture under a completely evil government, but he did not disobey or try to escape them. He submitted to the government he found himself under, trusting his Lord to protect and deliver him. Louis survived! After the war, Louis returned to Japan to personally forgive his former captors. He and men like him are a model for all of us! ”
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul teaches that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity, (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Mac teaches that we are to submit “…with no exception related to the ruler’s competence or incompetence, morality or immorality, cruelty or kindness, or even godliness or ungodliness. He gives the same instruction in his letter to Titus, to whom he wrote, Remind them [believers under his care] to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men, (Titus 3:1-2) (Mac p. 214).
Paul admonished the Thessalonian church to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need, (1 Thess. 4:11-12).
In view of our nation’s present political landscape, do you think Christians have an opportunity to let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven? (Matt. 5:16)
We have an opportunity to support our political leaders, to love the Constitution and the laws of the land. Do we not need to pray for the people who lead our nation rather than gossip, profane their names and character, and hold them in disrespect? Is it not almighty God who placed them in authority in the first place? Do we profane Him by our disobedience and disrespect? Sobriety is called for, brethren.
Our obedience to God’s Word here is essential. This is the way the world is changed for good– by Christians taking God’s commands seriously, zealously, with an unbridled passion to do what is right. Unbelievers cannot help but be drawn to that quality of devotion, since obedience to the higher standard is so seldom seen in our society.
By God’s sweet grace we will pick up from here next time. Until then I will leave you with this: Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it! (Acts 28:28). Blessings on all…mike.